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The Stages of a Romantic Relationship

One, two, three, four tell me that you love me more... Love is unpredictable. Yet it has a funny way of fitting in to one of the two stages of romance.

Stage One: The Obsessive Stage of Love

Did you know there has been extensive scientific research done on the “in love” obsessive stage of love? Prof. Dorothy Tennov of the University of Connecticut at Bridgeport, wrote a classic book, Love and Limerence, in which she concluded that the average lifespan of this stage of love is two years.1 During this obsessive stage of love, we live under the illusion that the person with whom we are in love is least, perfect for us. Our friends can see his or her flaws, but we cannot. Your mother may say, “Honey, have you considered that he hasn’t had a steady job in five years?” Your response may be, “Mom, give him a break. He’s waiting for the right opportunity.” Your coworker may say, “Have you considered that she’s been married five times before?” to which you respond, “Those guys were all losers before. The woman deserves to be happy. I’m going to make her happy.”

During this initial stage of love, we have other irrational thoughts, such as, “I’ll never be happy unless we are together forever. Nothing else in life really matters.” Such thinking often leads a student to drop out of college and marry his or her lover, or to start living together even though they are not married. In this stage of love, differences are minimized or denied. We just know that we are happy, that we have never been happier, and we intend to be this happy for the rest of our lives.

It all begins with what I call the “tingles.” There’s something about the way the other person looks, the way he (or she) talks, the way he emotes, the way he carries himself that gives you a little tingle inside. It is the tingles that motivate us to ask someone out for a cup of coffee. Sometimes we lose the tingles on the first date. Something they do or say annoys us, or we find out they have a habit that we know we can’t tolerate. Therefore, the next time they call for a cup of coffee, we’re not really that thirsty. It’s fine with us if we never see the person again, and the tingles die a natural death, a quick death.

But with others, every time we go out for a cup of coffee, we can hardly wait to meet for the next cup of coffee, we love coffee so much! The tingles get stronger and stronger, and the emotional obsession begins to set in. We find ourselves thinking about the person as soon as we wake up. He or she is the last person we think of before we go to sleep. All day long, we’re wondering what the person is doing. We can hardly wait to be together again, and every time we’re together, it’s so perfect…

Eventually one of us says to the other something like, “I think I could love you.” We are testing the waters to see if they are feeling what we are feeling. And if they give us a positive response, such as “What would be so bad about that?” we will gaze longingly into each other’s eyes deep into the night. The next time the moon is right, we actually say the words “I love you.” And we wait until they respond, “I love you too.” From that moment, the emotional obsession grows until we are certain that we want to spend the rest of our lives together.

It is in this obsessed stage of love that most people get married, and others start living together. The whole relationship has been effortless. We have been swept along by the heightened emotions of the “in love” obsession. That’s why my friend in the airport could not comprehend working on a marriage. She anticipated that their marriage would continue in this euphoric state in which each of them freely gave to the other, and viewed each viewed the other as the most important person in the universe. 

Stage Two: The Covenant Stage of Love

Stage two is what I prefer to call “covenant” love. It is very different from stage one, which I sometimes call “passionate” or “obsessive” love.” I do not mean to imply that covenant love is not passionate, but in covenant love, passion must be fed and nurtured. It will not continue to flow simply because we remain in the relationship. It is truly different from stage one. The obsessiveness we have had for each other begins to fade, and we recognize that there are other important pursuits in life in addition to pursuing each other. The illusions of perfection evaporate, and the words of your mother return to your mind: “He hasn’t had a steady job in five years”...or you remember the words of your coworker: “The woman has been married four times before.” And now, in your mind, you begin to agree with your mother (or your coworker). You wonder how you could have been so blind to these realities.

The differences in personality, interests, and lifestyles become very obvious, when before, you hardly saw them. The euphoria that led you to put each other first and to focus on each other’s well-being has now dissipated, and you begin to focus on yourself and realize that your lover is no longer meeting your needs. So you begin to request and then demand of the person, and when he or she refuses to meet your demands, you withdraw or you lash out in anger. Your anger or withdrawal pushes your lover further away and makes it more difficult for him/her to express love to you.

Can such a tarnished relationship be reborn? The answer is yes. But only if the couple comes to understand the nature of love and learns how to express love in a language the other person can receive.

The obsessive stage is over. The couple may be dating or married, but they must move to the next stage, or the romantic relationship will end.

Covenant love is conscious love. It is intentional love. It is a commitment to love no matter what. It requires thought and action. It does not wait for the encouragement of warm emotions but chooses to look out for the interest of the other because you are committed to their well-being.

Our behavior will affect our partner’s emotions. In fact, if we learn to express love in the other person’s love language, he/she will feel loved. And if that person reciprocates by speaking our love language, he/she will meet our emotional need for love. And we will have made the transition from the euphoria of passionate love to the deep, settled confidence of covenant love. We love each other, and our love will endure because we choose to nurture love by learning how to express love effectively.

It is covenant love that sustains a relationship through the years and leads the fifty-year-old husband to say about his wife, “I love her more deeply now than the day we married.”

Covenant love requires two factors: knowledge of the nature of love and the will to love. Understanding the five love languages will give you the information you need to have a successful long-term covenant love relationship. Hopefully, as you see the benefits of covenant love, you will also find the will to love.



This is very helpful for young people.

This is very helpful to everyone and it's giving me hope that my relationship will only get better because as of now my relationship is going through a set-back... so I hope there will be a light at the end of the tunnel for us.

Yes, it's helpful to everyone. You won't believe how many people are involved in senior dating. And it's so much easier because everyone knows exactly what they are looking for and many of the issues described above don't exist anymore.

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